[INTERVIEW] 'Hellbound' director explains series' message, ending and Season 2 - Korea Times
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[INTERVIEW] 'Hellbound' director explains series' message, ending and Season 2

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Netflix's new Korean original series
Netflix's new Korean original series "Hellbound" topped its global streaming chart after debuting on Nov. 19. Courtesy of Netflix

By Lee Gyu-lee

Only two months after Netflix's smash-hit Korean series "Squid Game" stirred up a global craze, the streaming platform's new Korean original series "Hellbound" has become another K-drama sensation, taking the top position on its global streaming chart.

"Hellbound" director and creator Yeon Sang-ho / Courtesy of Netflix
Since premiering on Nov. 19, the dystopian mystery horror series took the top spot in 29 countries ― including France, India, Poland, Japan, Singapore, Turkey and Egypt ― according to the streaming analytics platform FlixPatrol.

"The most important message that I wanted to deliver through this work is asking questions on humanity and what it means to be a human," the series' director and creator Yeon Sang-ho said in an interview with The Korea Times, Friday. "In the series, there are different types of humanistic characters… and through those characters, I wanted to bring up conversations for the audiences to discuss which of them genuinely portrays humanistic qualities, from their own perspective."

Based on the webcomic series of the same name, created by Yeon and his long-time friend and cartoonist Choi Gyu-seok, the dark series takes a candid look at human nature driven by fear, mass hysteria and twisted faith in a chaotic society as it is taken over by an unexplainable supernatural phenomenon.

Set in a fictional society, certain individuals are delivered a terrifying notice by a mysterious otherworldly messenger informing them of the specific date and time of their death. When their time comes, three demonic creatures appear to brutally execute and condemn the individuals to hell.

Amid the chaos, a group called the New Truth rises to power by preaching divine justice, while an opposing group fights to reveal the true motive of the self-appointed religious leaders.

The series revolves around a chaotic society facing a mysterious supernatural phenomenon. Courtesy of Netflix
The series revolves around a chaotic society facing a mysterious supernatural phenomenon. Courtesy of Netflix

The director, who won global recognition through zombie apocalypse films "Train to Busan" (2016) and "Peninsula" (2020), said that he and co-creator Choi began with two keywords, "notice" and "demonstration."

"We created a fictional world where those two things happen randomly and discussed what would happen in that world, like playing a game in the metaverse. And we put together stories of how people would react in that situation," he said.

"I've thought a lot about the word hell. No one has seen it but I was curious about how it became a noun that refers to something specific. And it's similar to the series: an incomprehensible supernatural incident occurs and people start to overlay it with their imagination, which leads them to actualize something that might not even exist. I thought this could be pretty scary and wanted to depict it in the series."

The director expressed universal issues about life and death, and human nature spoke not only to Koreans but also audiences around the world.

"Although the series is set in Korea, I think the issues it touches on are very universal, like life and death, sin and punishment, what it means to be human and so on," he said. "We all have these questions as human beings regardless of where you live, so I think those helped the series to resonate with global viewers."

Actor Yoo Ah-in, left, and director Yeon / Courtesy of Netflix
Actor Yoo Ah-in, left, and director Yeon / Courtesy of Netflix

Below contains spoilers for "Hellbound"

When unearthly creatures storm the center of the densely populated city of Seoul to slay the damned before the public's very eyes ― leaving nothing but a few smoking remains ― people start to desperately search for reasons and meaning behind the unexplainable phenomenon.

The New Truth's founder Jeong Jin-soo (Yoo Ah-in) preaches that those who were handpicked for condemnation are sinners, creating a divine justification for people to cling to.

But when a newborn baby receives a death notice, the people who believed in their blind faith that only sinners face condemnation are forced to think again.

"How the baby turns out in the end probably made an enormous impact on the people in that world. There will be people who see this as the indication of the world's end and some might see it as another hope. And this incident will be the key in how Hellbound will play out going forward," he noted.

A scene from the series / Courtesy of Netflix
A scene from the series / Courtesy of Netflix

Unlike the webcomic, the series ends with a cliffhanger, where Park Jeong-ja, one of the condemned people, is resurrected.

"(Choi and I) decided on the ending for the webcomic from the beginning, so we discussed the ending for the series while we were working on the webcomic," he said. "We sought for ways to strategize the advantages of having the story's creator as the series' director, and came up with the idea to go with this ending only for the series."

Adding that Jeong-ja's story in hell will be further described in season 2, Yeon shared that follow up will come out in webcomic form before the live-action series is released.

"Since this summer, Choi and I have been discussing the story for the second season and now we have an overall picture of what it will be. So we should be able to release the comics by the latter half of next year. But in regards to the series, we have yet to discuss it," he said.

"The message of the story will align with the first one but there will be changes in how it will be delivered. I can say that the new season will explore more on the actions and wrongdoings of the characters than this one."

A scene from
A scene from "Hellbound" / Courtesy of Netflix

Despite the praise the series has received, there have also been criticisms that it fails to provide a full picture of its background, like where the demons came from and how the mysterious phenomenon started.

To the naysayers who claim the plot is confusing, the director responded that he aimed at making something for the cosmic horror genre but also involving mystery elements.

"In terms of genre, Hellbound is strictly a cosmic horror series. And the biggest characteristic of that genre is that it depicts human beings' weakness through unexplainable otherworldly beings or horror and by showing that comparison, we can explore human nature and our strengths," he said. "And if that mystery is explained, it wouldn't be of the cosmic horror genre. So in that sense, this series will stay in that genre even into further seasons."
Lee Gyu-lee gyulee@koreatimes.co.kr

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